The Brooklyn Nets finished off the Boston Celtics (and the Danny Ainge era in Boston) in a 4-1 series win in the NBA’s opening round of the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Bucks, having swept the Miami Heat in their opening round, have been waiting to see who their second-round opponent would be.
Now, the Bucks and Nets are set to begin their best-of-seven series on Saturday. The two teams are among the favorites to come out of the East, and the series will undoubtedly be one of the most hard-fought in these playoffs. Here, we take a look at the season’s numbers and give our prediction of who will come out victorious.
The Overall Team Offensive & Defensive Standings
The Milwaukee Bucks, not the star-studded Nets, were the NBA’s top-scoring offense during the regular season. They scored 120.1 points per game, 1.5 points higher than the second-highest scoring team: the Brooklyn Nets. Unsurprisingly, the two teams also finished in the top two in field goal percentage. The Nets were first with 49.4% and the Bucks came in second with 48.7%. The Nets held the advantage over the Bucks in terms of three-point percentage, finishing fourth in the NBA with 39.2%. The Bucks finished a not-so-distant fifth behind them with 38.9%.
Defensively, the Nets and Bucks finished neck-and-neck in the bottom half of the league in terms of points allowed per game. The Nets finished 21st, allowing 114.1 points per game. The Bucks were right behind them at 22, allowing 114.2 points per game. The two teams were also incredibly close when it came to opponents’ field goal percentage. The Bucks finished fifth allowing 45.6% from the floor, and the Nets tied for sixth with 45.9%.
It was in three-point defense, though, that there was a large gap between the two teams. The Bucks were among one of the worst three-point defenses in the NBA, ranking 29th, next to last, allowing 38.2% from beyond the arc. The Nets, on the other hand, finished tied for 13th with 36.5% allowed.
What The Numbers Tell Us
On paper, these two teams are extremely evenly matched. Aside from three-point defense, the differences between their stats are marginal. If the two teams hold true to these numbers, the series will be long and VERY entertaining.
The Season Series Between The Bucks & Nets
Of course, numbers never tell the whole story. To get a better idea of how the series will play out, it is beneficial to look at the season series between the two teams. The Bucks and Nets played each other three times in the 72-game shortened season. The Bucks won the series, 2-1.
In the first game on January 18, the Nets won a grinder 125-123. Khris Middleton missed a potential game-tying shot at the buzzer. The two teams went nearly four months before their second matchup, which took place on May 2. The Bucks won the game in a 117-114 thriller. Two days later, on May 4, the Bucks came away with a 124-118 victory.
Each game of the series was decided, on average, by less than four points.
What Has Changed Since Their Last Game?
The Brooklyn Nets are finally at full strength. It is important to note that the Nets never had their full Big Three healthy in any of the games that they played against the Bucks. Without a doubt, that alone provides an entirely different dimension to the series. Instead of having to stop two of James Harden, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant, the Bucks will need to stop all three. Are they up to the task?
Donte DiVincenzo, who has had a very inconsistent season offensively, was a defensive force in the Bucks’ starting lineup. The Bucks will, unfortunately, be without him for the remainder of the playoffs after he suffered a foot injury in Game Two against Miami.
On the other hand, the Bucks look like a completely different team, even without DiVincenzo’s defense. Much of this is thanks to the uncharacteristic adjustments Coach Budenholzer has made throughout the past month. For the past two years, Bucks’ fans have been frustrated by the seemingly stubborn Budenholzer, trying his game plan whether it worked or not. As the season ended and the playoffs began, though, the Bucks have come into games with backup plans and have been adjusting to what is given to them on the floor.
Who Will Match Up Against The Big Three?
It is easy to surmise that Giannis Antetokounmpo will match up against Kevin Durant. The two superstars are among the best scorers in the NBA. The question will be who can stop the other just enough to make a difference.
Jrue Holiday will see plenty of time guarding James Harden. However, Holiday is well-known in the NBA for being able to guard any position outside of the center and can do it extremely well. In this series, though, it is very likely that most of his defensive looks will come against Harden.
That leaves Kyrie Irving. If DiVincenzo were healthy, he would be the one to get this assignment. None of the Bucks’ other options at starting guard, Pat Connaughton or Bryn Forbes, are good enough defensively to really challenge Irving. Whichever one starts will get the assignment, but there will be a great deal of help given.
Bucks in six. It may sound cliche, but if any team is going to beat the Nets, it is the Milwaukee Bucks. With PJ Tucker and Bobby Portis coming off the bench, the team has just enough defense to make a difference. The Bucks will steal a game in Brooklyn, win two at home, lose Game Five, and finally win the series in Game Six in Milwaukee.